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Paynesville Press - February 20, 2002

PAES to switch to all-day, everyday kindergarten

By Michael Jacobson

Kindergarten at Paynesville Area Elementary School will switch to an all-day, everyday program next year, with parents picking up part of the cost for the extra staffing or providing their own noon transportation if they opt to stay with half-day kindergarten.

On the original budget cut proposals, kindergarten would have been switched to an all-day, every-other-day program, which would have saved $27,000 for noon transportation and $25,000 for the reduction of a half-time teacher.

But the kindergarten staff and some parents lobbied the board against this proposal on the basis that every-other-day kindergarten does not provide enough continuity for the students. In every-other-day kindergarten, students would be scheduled for two days one week and three days the next, but holidays, sick days, and snow days could mean that some students wouldn't actually come to school for a week or more in some instances.

Because of these concerns, when the cuts were announced in January the board ordered the administration and the staff to put a package together to finance all-day, everyday kindergarten, which requires the addition of a half-time teacher.

The kindergarten program at PAES is based on a model from Kimball. Parents will be charged $100 per quarter ($400 per year) for the extra staffing to pay for the extra school time for their kindergarten student. Students who qualify for reduced-price meals will only have to pay $50 per quarter, and students who qualify for free lunches will not have to pay at all.

The district expects, based on projections of free and reduced meal applicants, to charge $21,600 from parents for all-day, everyday kindergarten.

The district also expects to get an additional $15,000-$20,000 in compensatory revenue with the switch. Compensatory revenue is federal money based on the number of free and reduced lunch applicants. With the current half-day, everyday program, kindergarten students do not eat lunch and most do not fill out applications for free or reduced lunches. The district expects more students will apply if they attend school for a full day.

One problem with the switch to all-day, everyday kindergarten was what to do with students whose parents either did not want their students to attend all-day, everyday kindergarten or refused to pay for it. The district surveyed parents of next year's kindergarten class and got responses from 50 of the 75 students. Of these most responded favorably towards all-day, everyday kindergarten, even if it meant out-of-pocket expenses to them.

Some of the other parents can be convinced of the benefits of all-day, everyday kindergarten, the board was told by the school administration. "I think the majority of parents are saying, 'Charge me for this. I'm willing to pay.' The question is what to do with the other three or four (who refuse)," said board chair Pat Flanders.

The board discussed offering all-day, every-other-day kindergarten for students who either refused to go all-day, everyday or refused to pay the new charges. A problem with this is that the continuity would not be the same for all the students, with some students attending school everyday and others only coming half-time.

"You can't learn the next two letters of the alphabet when two kids aren't there," said board member Tami Stanger of this problem.

The board finally decided to offer all-day, everyday kindergarten with the proposed charges and to offer half-day, everyday kindergarten as a no-cost alternative. This solves the curriculum question (by having all the students in class everyday).

The board did approve to cut noon bus transportation, which means that parents who opt for half-day, everyday kindergarten will have to arrange to pick up their children themselves at noon.

Elementary principal Todd Burlingame said the school will try to be flexible with parents who opt not to participate in the all-day, everyday kindergarten. He expects that most will choose to participate.

Melrose offered the half-day alternative to all-day kindergarten, Burlingame told the board, and a number of parents who started with half-day kindergarten quickly switched to all-day kindergarten.

PAES administration and kindergarten staff will hold a meeting for prospective kindergarten parents on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. in the media center at PAES to explain the new kindergarten program and answer any questions.

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